Freedman’s (The Affair, 2013, etc.) new novel picks up where her previous left off: Now that the wife has confronted the mistress, can a marriage survive?
Told in three narratives—the mistress has the first third, the husband, the middle, and the wife closes out the novel—the story covers a few days during the Christmas holiday as the unhappy threesome comes to terms with the tangled relationships. Stephanie isn’t quite sure what first attracted her to the older man, but over the last 18 months, Robert has become someone she imagines marrying. When his wife, Kathy, shows up at her Boston condo, and then Robert drops by moments later bearing Christmas gifts for his mistress, Kathy fights for Robert, saying she has never stopped loving him and wants him back. Stephanie surrenders, telling Robert to go back to his wife. And he does. Furious and heartsick, Stephanie travels to Wisconsin to spend Christmas with her large family. While there, she comes to terms with the dire circumstance she’s in: single and pregnant. Robert’s side of the story is filled with a juggler’s anxiety as he tries to patch up both relationships (he calls Stephanie endlessly, even going to her empty condo to find her) while trying to decide what he really wants: his loyal wife and two teenage kids or the better version of himself he can be with Stephanie. When Kathy’s turn comes, her story is filled with the sadness of betrayal and the growing evidence that Robert is still in contact with his mistress. Although dissecting an affair in a split narrative can be illuminating (and done with brilliant wit, as in Julian Barnes’ Talking It Over), Freedman too often repeats scenes, offers clunky comparisons (Kathy’s sister and Robert’s friend are having affairs) and lacks new insights into the world of extramarital affairs to make the narrative experiment worthwhile.
Familiar ground that’s been done better before.